Israeli school year opens with bombs


JERUSALEM, Sept. 3 (JTA) — It was 7:45 a.m., and Yuval Sadan lay in his bed on the eighth floor of an apartment building on Haganah Street in the French Hill neighborhood of Jerusalem, reluctant to get up for his second day of school.

Luckily it was a Monday, so school started at 9:20 a.m. — an hour and 20 minutes later than usual.

As he lay in bed, a huge thunder shook the building. It took Yuval only a minute to realize that Palestinian terrorism wasn’t just a news item anymore. This time, he was frightfully close to a personal encounter with terror.

“I looked out the window and saw a thick pillar of smoke rising from a burning car,” the 17-year-old student recalled. “I was scared to death. I didn’t know what to do.”

It was the fourth car bomb to explode in Jerusalem in a 12-hour period. Had it not been a Monday, Yuval probably would have been on the street, right next to the booby-trapped car, waiting for the school bus to pick him up.

Two of the bombs went off in French Hill in the northern part of the city, one in the adjacent neighborhood of Ma’alot Dafna and one in Gilo — a southern suburb of the capital that in recent weeks has been the target of continuous rifle and mortar attacks. Six people were slightly wounded in the attacks.

“At first I didn’t want to go to school. I was too shocked, ” Yuval said. But he boarded the first bus and went to share the firsthand experience of terrorism with his friends.

Some 1.9 million students went to school this week with a dark cloud of terrorism hanging over their heads. The problem was particularly acute in Jerusalem and the settlements.

Due to a “mini-cease-fire” agreement, schools in Gilo were spared the shooting and mortar shelling from the adjacent Palestinian town of Beit Jalla that had become routine.

However, the school year started with “specific intelligence warnings” for possible terrorist attacks in the capital. One terrorist cell was uncovered last week in the Arab neighborhood of Beit Hanina, but others managed to plant their bombs.

The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine took responsibility for the attacks, saying they were acts of revenge for the killing last week of Abu Ali Mustafa, secretary-general of the Front, who was killed in the West Bank city of Ramallah in a helicopter missile strike aimed at his office.

Israeli Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer later said the PFLP, under Mustafa’s guidance, had planned to stage a series of terrorist attacks against children in kindergarten and other schools to coincide with the start of the academic year.

Ben-Eliezer blamed Mustafa for having been personally responsible for plans to attack children and educational institutions, an accusation that the PFLP denied.

Indeed, tension was felt in most schools. Police reinforcements were deployed near schools and in the main traffic areas leading to them. The Education Ministry recruited some 3,300 guards to protect the entire education system, but many of the guards were unarmed because they were ineligible for gun permits.

“We were instructed not to assemble on the steps in front of our school,” Yuval said. “In fact, only students our age are allowed to leave the school compound during breaks. All others have to stay inside the building.”

Schools in Gilo didn’t rule out the possibility that gunfire could resume at any time. After parents threatened to keep their children home from school, city officials made efforts to fortify some of the schools that might be targeted if the Palestinians resumed fire in the Bethlehem area.

Security was a major concern in the Jewish settlements.

Elementary school students at Kfar Darom in the Gaza Strip arrived in school Sunday with armored cars. The army wouldn’t take any chances that the first day of school would begin with a bloody attack on a bus.

“In Kfar Darom, we are all one family. But I don’t feel safe, even in the armored truck,” said Yair Amitai, 13, who lost his mother in one of the first terrorist attacks in Gaza last year. “I prefer to go with my father.”

The good news is that despite all the warnings and threats, the school year opened smoothly. Only a few parents didn’t send their children to school for fear of terrorism.

“There is simply no other alternative,” said Edna Nir, the mother of two children in elementary school. “We cannot leave the children at home until” Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and Palestinian Authority President Yasser “Arafat sign a cease-fire agreement.”

In Jerusalem, meanwhile, Yuval and his next-door neighbor and classmate Ariel Siman couldn’t concentrate on their studies; they just couldn’t get the bomb that exploded near the entrance of their homes out of their minds.

“Our parents should no longer worry that something can happen to us if we go downtown,” Ariel told Yuval. “The terrorists are now sending the bombs ‘home delivery.’ “

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